My fiancée and I are putting together the guest list for our wedding and we’ve run into a social quandary. It will be a small wedding, and we want to invite two of our mutual friends who are married to each other. We mostly knew them as a monogamous couple, but since we moved to another state, they have become part of a polycule. We love our friends, and want everyone at this intimate gathering to feel comfortable. We’ve never met the two newest people in their relationship, but they all seem to be getting more serious about each other. Should we invite just the two friends, or the whole polycule? How do we know when a +1 should actually be a +2 or +3?
Hello! Fellow queer person currently planning a wedding here and experiencing intermittent guest list stress, so I am answering from that perspective! The simplified version of my answer is this: Basically, you can treat these friends the same way as you treat other friends who have maybe started new relationships where you don’t know their partners. Are you automatically inviting all of your monogamously partnered friends’ partners even if you’ve never met them before or don’t really have your own friendships with them? Then it might be the most “fair” to consider inviting these friends’ partners. If you have left off some friend’s partners who you don’t know, then it’s fine to leave these ones off, too, regardless of how serious the relationship is.
My slightly more complicated (or perhaps liberating for you — idk!) answer is that you can invite or not invite whoever you want to your wedding. A lot of “guest list” etiquette is outdated when it comes to +1s — and I don’t mean in the sense that obviously old and heteronormative rules don’t take into account polycules or poly relationship structures but just in the sense that +1s in general don’t always need to be the default. Not everyone on the guest list for my wedding gets a +1 — even for some folks who are monogamously partnered! My fiancé and I basically went with our own personal “rules” for +1s, which weren’t codified rules at all but just rather who we thought it made the most sense to invite. We have some friends who are newer to our lives, and it just didn’t make a ton of sense for us to invite their partners who we’ve never met. We have some friends who we spend a ton of time with who never really bring their partners around, so in some of those cases, we also didn’t feel bad about not extending +1s. I have cousins in Norway who are invited who are married or otherwise in longterm partnerships whose partners are not invited, which I knew would be especially chill because Norwegians think Americans are kinda extra with all the +1 stuff at weddings.
The size of your guest list is the #1 determining factor for the cost of your wedding — full stop. I don’t think anyone understands this until they’ve planned a wedding themselves (myself included!), but the smallest adjustments to size can make a huge difference. It’s not “just a few extra people” in a lot of cases; it automatically makes the price of food, drink, programs, etc go up. And if you’re planning a small wedding, then it makes it all the more true that small fluctuations would have a big impact. The thing that really stands out to me is that you’ve never met these other people in the polycule. Except in a few very rare cases, my fiancé and I aren’t inviting anyone who hasn’t been met by at least one of us.
Every time I experienced stress while working on our guest list, I had a helpful friend who reminded me that there’s no way to make everyone happy; you should focus on making yourselves happy. No one should be invited to a wedding solely because you feel socially obligated to do so. You have to come up with whatever “rules” make the most sense for you — and they can be amorphous like ours ultimately were.
Of course, no one should feel excluded just because they choose a polyamorous approach to their relationships. Ask yourself this though: If these two people who you’re both friends with had recently broken up and were now seriously dating new people, would you invite those new partners? If any of your monogamous friends broke up and started seeing new people, would you invite those new people, too? If the answer is yes without a doubt, then sure, go ahead and invite their full polycule. If the answer is no or you’re unsure, then maybe remind yourselves that what really matters is the people you’re closest to are at your special day, and sometimes that doesn’t include everyone those people are also close to.
Also, something that’s helpful to keep in mind is that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with guest +1s being on, for lack of a better phrase, a “backup list.” If you have enough people decline when they RSVP to your wedding, then perhaps you can add in extra +1s — either for these friends or for other friends who are in new relationships or even for single friends who you think might benefit from a date. In general, my guest list has what I call a “no randos” policy, which basically means no blanket +1s for folks — except in a few individual cases where I know the person invited ONLY knows me and my fiancé and I wanted them to have a buddy. See, this is what I mean by amorphous rules! Be flexible and not overly constrained by etiquette, which can be super rigid!
I totally understand the impulse of wanting to make sure your approach to social expectations are inclusive and fair, but I also think it’s okay to play by your own rules when it comes to a wedding and go with your instincts. So long as the decision is being made from a place of what you actually want and not what you think others expect of you, I think whatever choice you make is ultimately yours and doesn’t have to be defended to anyone. The fact that you’re asking this question in the first place signals to me that you take your friends’ relationships seriously.
You can chime in with your advice in the comments and submit your own questions any time.